A Thursday night trade between the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs seems to reveal the trade deadline plans of both clubs.
In landing outfielder Joc Pederson for minor-league first baseman Bryce Ball, the Braves added payroll – indicating they still consider themselves contenders in the National League East and should be classified as buyers.
On the other hand, the Cubs traded a veteran for a prospect, suggesting that more veterans with expiring contracts will be on the move before the July 30 trade deadline.
Pederson, a 29-year-old left-handed hitter with power, will help the Braves compensate for the loss of two front-line outfielders. Marcell Ozuna fractured two fingers during a head-first slide in Boston May 26 and Ronald Acuna Jr. tore the ACL in his right knee July 10 while trying to make a catch in Miami.
Ozuna, who also faces likely legal charges and MLB penalties for alleged domestic battery against his wife Genesis, has yet to begin rehabbing his injury, while Acuna is expected to be out into the start of next season.
Pederson, signed as a free agent for $4.5 million, is on a one-year contract that has $1.84 million remaining plus a $2.5 million buyout on a $10 million mutual option for 2022. He is capable of playing any outfield position.
He had his best year with the Dodgers in 2019, when he hit 36 home runs, and had three other 25-homer campaigns. But his lifetime batting average is just .230 – mainly because he had trouble hitting left-handed pitching.
Atlanta might consider acquiring a right-handed platoon partner, perhaps ex-Brave Adam Duvall, to pair with Pederson. The Braves have other options too.
They could promote switch-hitting prospect Drew Waters, now at Triple-A Gwinnett; coax Atlanta resident Nick Markakis out of retirement; acquire more significant outfield help via trade or free-agent signing; or obtain a third baseman that would allow a shift of incumbent Austin Riley to left field.
Without any of those moves, Atlanta is expected to continue juggling journeymen Guillermo Heredia, Ehire Adrianza, Abraham Almonte, and Ender Inciarte to fill two of their three outfield spots.
From the Chicago point of view, the acquisition of the 23-year-old Ball, who showed good power during his first pro season in 2019, indicates that the team might not retain potential free agent Anthony Rizzo. The veteran first baseman is one of several Chicago players, including fellow infielders Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, whose contracts will expire at the end of this season.
The Braves have been linked to Bryant, primarily a third baseman, in recent trade rumors.
Both the Cubs and Braves have been disappointments this season, with the two teams struggling to reach .500 after starting the season as likely powerhouses in their divisions.
Even though Atlanta is 44-45, it is only four games behind the New York Mets in the National League East – with a chance to gain ground during an upcoming five-game series that starts with a July 26 doubleheader at CitiField. General manager Alex Anthopoulos said earlier this month that Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, has given him permission to add payroll. The Braves rank 14th among the 30 teams, according to Spotrac, while the Cubs rank 12th.
Chicago is 44-46 in the wake of a recent 11-game losing streak. The Cubs have lost 19 of their last 25 games, leaving them eight games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central. General manager Jed Hoyer conceded last week that the team will be sellers in this year’s trade market.